Saturday, 26 January 2013

My Story...

My husband and I with our families on our wedding day May 2010

I never could’ve imagined, when I arrived in Buenos Aires over 12 years ago, a young girl of just 20 setting out on her first solo adventure abroad, that I’d remain here today, living a life of forced exile from my native UK.

In 2001, I transferred from University College London to a university in Buenos Aires for the third year of my undergraduate degree in order to write my dissertation on the human rights group, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. I adored the city and upon graduation, returned to Argentina to work as a journalist, later working in communications and digital marketing consultancy for international non-profit organisations.

Like many other long-term expats, my reason for remaining so far away from home was simple…I fell in love. I met my husband, Mariano, in early 2005 and we tied the knot just over five years later in May 2010.

While I was happy to remain in Buenos Aires during the first few years of our relationship, when we made the decision to start a family, the reality of my location hit home. One of the things that has most appealed to me about Argentine culture, is the importance placed on family life. But by raising my children in Buenos Aires, thousands of miles away from the vast majority of their extended family, I’d be depriving them of just that.

So at the end of 2011, my husband and I decided to apply for a spouse visa so that we could move back to the UK and settle down before starting our family. We knew that the process of applying for a UK visa would be hard-going but we never could’ve prepared ourselves for the impossible hurdles put in place by Theresa May as part of her revision of the UK Family Visa rulings implemented in July 2012.

Prior to the changes, my husband and I would have had little problem proving our eligibility for a UK spouse visa: We had been living together for over five years and married for two. My husband was educated at a British school in Buenos Aires and speaks English with barely a hint of accent. He works as Senior IT consultant for an international company and had already received significant interest from several UK firms that had asked him to get in touch once his visa had been issued. And just in case things didn’t go as smoothly as we had hoped, we had also been careful to put aside several thousand pounds in savings that would enable us to live in the UK for a year until we found employment.

However, on the 10th of July 2012, after just over six months spent registering our marriage in the UK, gathering, apostilling and translating the supporting documentation required by UK Border Agency, including the personal photos, emails and letters needed to prove the “validity” of our  marriage, we visited the UKBA website to compile a final checklist, only to discover that just 24 hours earlier, the entire procedure had changed.

The Family Visa, which enabled British citizens to reside in the UK with a non-EU spouse, was previously determined on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration factors such as employment history, savings, English language level, duration of the relationship, etc. The new rulings however now made it almost impossible for couples currently residing together outside of the UK to obtain visas, with the exception of the most wealthy, of course.
The new requirements stipulate that couples that have been residing together abroad must show that the UK partner has a firm job offer in the UK prior to his/her spouse applying for the visa. They must also show that the UK partner has earned at least £18,600 over the last financial year while residing abroad with their foreign partner.

As a charity worker, I earn an average wage in Argentina but when you convert this to pounds sterling, rather than look at the UK equivalent income, it misses the mark by far. If the UK partner of a couple residing abroad has taken time off to raise a family, the situation is even more hopeless, no matter what their combined family income may be.

Ironically, my husband’s salary does exceed £18,600 but as the family income is disregarded for couples residing abroad, and only the individual income of the UK partner is taken into consideration, we still fail to meet the financial requirements.

While there have been a number of reports on families affected by the changes, most have focused on more controversial cases involving students with no income whatsoever, those on benefits and applicants that have been unable to meet the minimum language requirements. Little attention has been paid to the massive discrimination suffered by professional couples, with the potential to contribute significant tax income to the UK, merely because they are residing together abroad at the time of application.

Undeterred, my husband and I have continued to look for ways back to the UK (without having to endure long periods of separation in order to meet the financial requirements) and, upon receiving a great job offer from a UK company, earning a significant wage, my husband is now awaiting UKBAs response on his sponsorship application. Even so, despite his qualifications, high salary and the fact that he is married to a Brit, there is still no guarantee that his visa application will be successful.

What we do know is that for the time being, we are having to decide between postponing our plans to start a family (in the hope that we’ll eventually find a way to return to the UK) or bringing up our children over 7,000 miles away from 90% of their family. Little did I ever think when I first arrived in Argentina to write about human rights abuses that a decade later, I’d be on the receiving end of similar violations of my rights (to a family life) courtesy of my own government.

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